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Strong Economy Yields Optimism at ABA Marketplace

The American Bus Association’s (ABA) 2018 Annual Meeting and Marketplace concluded at the end of January with resounding success. Nearly 3,500 travel professionals converged in Charlotte, North Carolina, to cultivate new and old business partnerships, engaging in a total of 114,000 business appointments and 100 educational sessions led by industry experts.

“We’ve got the best group travel show out there,” said Peter Pantuso, President and CEO of ABA. “There’s nothing else like it out there, and people continue to come to the show because they know it’s going to be great for their business.”

According to Pantuso, many tour operators are experiencing their most successful years to date.

“The economy is doing well right now,” said Pantuso. “The stock market is up. Employment is up. People have got some extra money to spend, and when they’ve got some extra money, they travel.”

Despite the positive economic momentum of 2018, some delegates at the convention discussed the impact of the contentious political environment on the travel industry. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, inbound U.S. travel decreased 3.6 percent in 2017, while France and Spain took the top slots as the world’s most visited destinations. Though political tensions may have precipitated this decline, there are also several other factors to consider, such as a strong U.S. dollar making international travel to the U.S. more expensive and other countries pouring more resources into tourism campaigns.

Association officials, however, don’t expect those factors to hold the domestic tourism industry back.

“We’re certainly seeing more people travel, and they’re not just looking at the same thing, but new destinations, which bodes well for smaller destinations,” said Pantuso. “My assumption for the current year is that we’re going to see a similar pattern as the economy continues to do well and people have more money to spend. The softening dollar may help with inbound travel. All of those things coming together will allow us to stay the course.”

Throughout the event, the ABA Gives Back charity was able to raise more than $25,000 for the Isabella Santos Foundation, a local organization that supports pediatric cancer research. Since it was founded, ABA Gives Back has raised over $400,000 for local nonprofits.

The association’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Marketplace will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, January 26-29.